An award-winning laneway home in Summerhill

Carol W Photography/Carol W Photography

40R Shaftesbury Ave., Toronto

Asking Price: $1,398,000

Taxes: $7,722.23 (2022)

LotSize: 20-by 42-feet

agents: Heather Harris, Lauren Walker and Todd Skinner, Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.

The backstory

In 2006, artist Elena Soni and psychiatrist Jorge Soni purchased a diminutive building in a back lane in Toronto’s historic Summerhill neighbourhood.

The ramshackle structure started out as a blacksmith’s shop in the Victorian era, when workers serviced the nearby North Toronto Railway Station. The building had served as a horse stable, a taxi dispatch office and a metalworker’s live-work studio over the years.

The Sonis brought in the architectural firm Superkul to design a compact single-family dwelling that would preserve elements of the shed’s fabled past.

The architects faced a host of challenges in taking on the trailblazing project: City of Toronto by-laws were not friendly to laneway development at the time. The structure was also built right to the property line on three sides of the extremely tight lot.

Regulations prevented the architects from creating additional openings in the walls, but they were permitted to add height. That strategy allowed them to bring light, air and views from above.

The neighbors on an adjacent property had right-of-way access to their garage, so the second storey was cantilevered over the first to provide room for a vehicle to pass.

Superkul partners Meg Graham and Andre D’Elia went on to win many honors for their conversion of the laneway house, including the Canadian Green Building Award and the Ontario Association of Architects Award of Design Excellence in 2012.

In 2021, Erin Haydn O’Neill, a photographer, and Leo Gomez-Clas, a film and design maven, became the new owners of 40R Shaftesbury Ave.

The house today

The detached house provides 850 square feet of living space in rooms configured to be ‘as tight as a ship,’ Ms. Graham told the Globe and Mail upon the project’s completion.Carol W Photography/Carol W Photography

Ms. Haydn O’Neill and Mr. Gomez-Clas were drawn to the contemporary architecture and industrial vibe of the two-storey residence.

“Leo and I are drawn to anything slightly alternative,” Ms. Haydn O’Neill says in reference to the couple’s background in the arts.

The property was also provided a relatively affordable entrée into the upscale Summerhill neighborhood, Mr. Gomez-Clas says.

The detached house provides 850 square feet of living space in rooms configured to be “as tight as a ship,” Ms. Graham told the Globe and Mail upon the project’s completion.

The main floor has a kitchen open to the living and dining area. According to Superkul, a light shaft topped by operable skylights runs the entire length of the west wall, interrupted only by a second-floor courtyard. The shaft brings light to the ground floor while providing passive ventilation.

“It’s always bright throughout the day,” Ms. Haydn O’Neill says.

The architects repurposed an existing steel door, covered in graffiti, as a screen that slides across the ground floor glass facing the laneway.

Upstairs, two bedrooms – each with an ensuite bathroom – have built-in cupboards to maximize storage.

To enhance privacy, the bedrooms are separated by the wood-lined courtyard.

Exterior metal stairs leading to the rooftop, where residents can relax on a secluded deck in the treetops. Another portion is covered by a green roof.

The home’s setting provides plenty of privacy, Mr. Gomez-Clas says, with an atmosphere that feels more like a courtyard than a laneway.

The subway is nearby, he points out, and the entrance to the beltline trail is a few minutes’ walk away.

The best feature

In their description of the project, the architects describe how they had the metal treated and reinstalled as the primary building skin.Carol W Photography/Carol W Photography

The exterior cladding was a patchwork of various materials that had been hammered on over the decades. Superkul stripped the detritus away but took care to salvage rusted steel panels and catalog their position on the building.

In their description of the project, the architects describe how they had the metal treated and reinstalled as the primary building skin. To contrast with the warm tones of the metal, they added wood stained in a sooty black.

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